At least two of Nippon Cargo Airlines’ three idled 747-400 freighters (36133, 36135) were reportedly ferried for storage at Victorville (VCV) this week, lending support to rumors that the all-cargo carrier is now looking to sell or lease out the freighters.
In mid-June of this year, NCA was forced to ground its entire eleven-unit 747F fleet after Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau found the airline had omitted multiple incidents related to the aircraft, and launched a subsequent audit of the airline. To comply with the audit, in August, NCA submitted an improvement plan to Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism, and stated that it would seek to offload its 747-400Fs and move to a platform consisting entirely of 747-8Fs. NCA has since resumed most of its routes using -8Fs, with its remaining routes – Tokyo-Los Angeles (NRT-LAX) and NRT-Frankfurt/Hahn (HHN) – once aircraft safety is confirmed and flight arrangements are made.
However, the resumption of NCA’s -8F service leaves the question: What will happen to the three outgoing -400Fs? There’s no shortage of demand for idled 747-400Fs, as we noted in an analysis of some of those freighters back in August. In considering the fleet plans of major carriers, as well as NCA’s relationships with other airlines, Cargo Facts has identified four of the likely contenders to acquire the idled NCA freighters.
- Suparna Airlines. Shanghai-based HNA-affiliate Suparna Airlines (previously Yangtze River Express) operates a widebody fleet of four 747-400Fs. While its widebody fleet was stable over the past year, the carrier has sold off some of its aging narrowbody freighters, and currently operates ten 737-300Fs and one 737-400F. However, we at Cargo Facts believe that, in addition to considering 737 NG freighters to replace some of its outgoing classics, Suparna might be ideally situated to modernize its widebody fleet through the acquisition of at least one of the NCA 744s. The oldest of NCA’s three 747-400Fs is just over eleven years old – slightly younger than the youngest of Suparna’s four 747s, and much younger than the other three, which range from twenty to twenty-seven years old.
- Silk Way West. This all-cargo subsidiary carrier of Azerbaijan-based Silk Way Airlines operates a fleet of three 747-400Fs and five 747-8Fs, while its Italy-based joint venture, SW Italia, operates two -400Fs. Silk Way picked up its most recent -400F (29902, ex-Malaysia Airlines) on-lease from Aircraft Leasing & Management only last month, and has long been in the market for additional 747Fs – both new-build and used, as Silk Way picked up another ex-Malaysia Airlines -400F (28434) back in May. The NCA freighters fall into the same sweet-spot in age – around a decade – as those -400Fs Silk Way snapped up from Malaysia Airlines, which suggests the carrier might find the ex-NCA freighters equally attractive.
- Cargolux. The Luxembourg-based, all-cargo carrier has a cooperation agreement with NCA in place, giving Cargolux access to NCA’s NRT-HHN flights, and giving NCA access on Cargolux flights from Luxembourg to NRT. Additionally, Cargolux’s President and CEO, Richard Forson, told Cargo Facts earlier this year that the carrier plans to add three 747-400Fs next year. At the time, we identified NCA’s aircraft as a likely source for the freighters, but it was not yet clear whether NCA looked to offload the -400Fs. Today, this deal looks much more likely.
- Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings. It would come as no surprise were Atlas to acquire one or more of the outgoing NCA freighters. Since September 2017, Atlas has operated two 747-400Fs on an ACMI basis for NCA, so there is already a framework in place for cooperation between Atlas and NCA, were the latter to opt for leasing its -400Fs rather than selling them. Beyond the relationship between the companies, Atlas has steadily added freighters to its extensive fleet this year, including its most recent 747-400F acquisition (30608, ex-EVA Air) last month. During its 3Q earnings call earlier this month, Atlas noted that it will place two additional 747-400Fs in ACMI operations by the end of the year – its first for SF Express and its second for Asiana Cargo. With its growing ACMI segment, Atlas would be well-positioned to find a place for NCA’s -400Fs.